I'll admit it: I'm one of these middle-agers who looks over the younglings in the gym with a bit of envy. I know I'm not the only one, and in my case, it's colored by the fact that aside from occasional walking and hiking when I was a youngling, I had a naturally high metabolism that meant I could stay skinny without trying hard. Nowadays moderate exercise simply means I don't gain weight, rather than losing it.

But until today it never occurred to me to wonder what was going on in the younger folks' heads when I came into the gym. Now I'm thinking of it as "Keep Up With the Old Guy" Syndrome.

I'd noticed flickers of this before but brushed it off, figuring I was imagining things: that sometimes when I was working out and I would periodically speed up on the elliptical or stationary bike, people of the half-my-age variety would speed up on their machines, particularly if I'd been going faster than them to start with. I saw that again today: every quarter mile on the elliptical I would increase my speed, and two people on treadmills a few yards away sped up too. (During the first two speed increases their conversation got more winded. After speed increase #3 they stopped talking altogether.)

I likely would have ignored and brushed this off too. But then after doing the weight workout I went to a cool-down on a stationary bike moments before another youngling got on the one next to me. The first half-mile on the bike I increase my speed at tenth-of-a-mile increments, then bring it back down for the second half. And I noticed yet again that when I sped up, he did too. That caught my attention because it's the first time this happened twice in a row during a workout.

Then, while I was staring straight ahead and listening to the Monkees burbling away in my headphones, I saw - not once, but twice - the guy next to me lean over and look at my speed. When he leaned back he sped up to go faster than I was.

I've got to say I was boggled. All this time being jealous of youth and strength and high metabolisms, and folks half my age or younger are trying to keep up with me? I don't mean out of jealousy - but maybe they felt like the old guy was showing them up.

Which made my day, I'm not too big to admit.

So take heart, those of you of my generation and older who are trying to keep yourselves healthy amid a workout sea of young faces. One way or another, you may be a better example than you realize!

(P.S. If they really were bothered by my workout, my leaving didn't provide any relief. As I was walking out a friend was coming in - a fellow who is a little older than me, in better shape...and an ex-Marine.)
That's not a reference to A Christmas Story (though I was tempted to take a picture of myself bundled under three or four coats), but rather that I finally got back to the gym today for the first time since before I moved (that is, before last April).

I'd been telling myself that I'd get back for...well, never mind that. But it was particularly intense over the past couple of weeks, except I let my time-gobbling duo of writing and doing house-related things (125,000 words on No Word in Death's Favor as of this past Saturday, by the way) gobble time that could otherwise have gone to working out. But today I was determined to get there, since I was starting to feel my resolve slipping again.

And more to the point, I have an active summer planned, which will include a maniacal amount of sightseeing involving an equally maniacal amount of walking, plus hiking with some treading up to the tops of giant rocks. I anticipate having a great deal of fun this summer, so naturally I do not want to cut it short in midstream with a heart attack.

At any rate, the hardest thing for me about working out is not the exercise itself, but making myself not compare where I am now to my 2009 peak of one hour workouts four days a week, when I dropped several inches off my waist, could run a couple of miles without breaking a sweat, and lift the highest settings on the campus gym's weight machines one-handed. That was after several months of intense exercise, and honestly I'm not sure if I could reach that level of intensity again. But what I would like to do is get rid of as much of the gut as possible, build back some arm muscle...and of course, not die of a heart attack (on vacation or any time in the next few decades thereafter, preferably).

I broke down today's workout into my old standard non-intensive plan:

I started with the elliptical, doing a mile in about 10:30 - no record-breaking there, but breaking the no-workout streak was all I cared about. I did another half mile in almost exactly five minutes, then a cool down.

Then the weight machines, and the titular loss of movement in my arms. While I was smart enough to not try the same weights I was doing even when last I worked out, I was naive enough to think I could do the same quantity. After seven ten-sets of pull-downs (with the machines set to 7 out of 12 on five of those, and 8/12 on two), I knew I was done with lifting for the day - especially when an 8/12 machine pulled me back into my seat on the last tug.

Then a mile on a stationary bike going 55-100 RPM, with a third-of-a-mile cool down.

This is the point where I pointedly tell myself not to remember that my original workouts would've added jogging three laps around the gym, a number of push-ups, an extra one-half mile to one mile on the elliptical, and at least twice as much weight-lifting. Right now I'm just pleased that I got to the gym at all, so I'll go with that.

What I need to figure out now is why I have so much trouble keeping up this exercise habit, while in 2009 I was kind of obsessive about working out and stopped only after (1) a doctor told me to quit exercising for a month after my nearly-lethal spider bite, and (2) my car died. I suspect if I can figure this puzzle out I'll at least get back to something close to fighting shape.

Or walking miles a day shape. Either way I'll be happy.
This seems to be something I cycle through every time I start a new book. I need to figure out a way to make things stick--or put more simply, showing the same discipline with exercise as I do with writing.

And finding a balance between writing time and making the time to exercise. I forgive myself lapses in exercise when I'm just starting a novel because devoting the lion's share of my time to writing gets the ball rolling--but I've been working on Arizona for a little under a month now, and exercise is still getting short shrift. So where have I struck a balance before?

I did in early 2009, when I was deep into my Shenandoah historical novels. I took a short walk before writing almost every day, and alternated writing days with exercise ones--on the exercise days I went to the campus fitness center to jog and lift weights for 45-60 minutes. I knocked out the four Shenandoah books in a little under two years and still managed, even with building arm and leg muscle, to have a net weight loss of 20 pounds. A few things derailed that, though, and I realized the other day that in a few months it will have been two years since I've had a regular workout routine (and naturally, all the progress I made then has since been wiped away).

That and a meeting I went to last week about a new health program here on campus and various financial incentives it offers got me thinking about this issue again. I know the benefits of the alternating routine because I've enjoyed them: my head gets clearer so my writing gets better, I feel better (which has the same effect)--all of which compensated for the "lost" writing time with increased good "production" when I did write--and finally, of course, there are all the other general health benefits. And yet the initial hurdle is the hardest. I walk Tucker the Big Dog, our German Shepherd mix, around our neighborhood almost every morning and some nights (Wheezy the Little Dog doesn't like to be walked by anyone but her Mama, Laurie), which is better than nothing but not nearly enough. I've cut back on some of my fried food consumption and did about two miles of walking this past Friday, but that's still not enough.

I think what I'm going to have to do is draw on the same mysterious reserve that fuels the writing again, and resume alternating writing and exercise days. I did it once before, so I know I can do it again if I just buckle down and do it. Not to mention the exercise time also doubles as productive Think Up Good Story Ideas Time.

It's time to get my boots on the ground again.

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Madwriter

February 2015

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